By Steve Glickman

It has been fashionable in American universities to talk down the value of `Ethnic’ studies … [but] there has to be a different view of citizenship in this republic if one is black, or if one shares with any degree of scholarly understanding the black experience of America. It should go equally without saying that if one comes from any part of the world defined as Hispanic, there is a view not only of American history but indeed of European history, which has to be different. Hispanics remember that between the British and the Roman empires there occurred another one larger than the first and more lasting than the second. Missing it is like never having seen the sea.”

Through these eloquent words on December 12, 1979, former Georgetown University President Timothy Healy, S.J., made an impressive argument for the inclusion of “Ethnic” studies as part of a university curriculum. Twenty years later, this discussion was re-opened in light of several on-campus acts of bigotry surrounding African-American, Jewish and gay students during the 1999 to 2000 school year. The ensuing aftermath of these incidents generated many heated conversations throughout the university which ultimately resulted in such worthwhile activities as the “Pluralism in Action” dialogues sponsored during the last evening of this year’s New Student Orientation.

Yet, as a preeminent institution of higher learning, we are doing the student body a disservice to limit the discussion of such issues as “diversity” and “multiculturalism” to a single occasion. Georgetown would be wise to take a serious look at how it can take full advantage of its impressively diverse students through the creation of a formal interdisciplinary program in Ethnic Studies. Georgetown has fallen behind in the development of such a program, the likes of which can be found at our peer institutions across the country.

Fortunately, much of the most important groundwork for an ethnic studies program is already in place. There are literally dozens of courses offered at Georgetown on race, ethnicity and pluralism in several disciplines, including English, government, history, linguistics, philosophy, sociology and theology, among others. If we were to incorporate these courses along with a foundational course, we would have nearly all the ingredients in place for a comprehensive Ethnic Studies program – a very similar formula to the very successful American studies program already in existence. The major component missing is sufficient funding for a tenure-track faculty member to administer this program. The responsibilities of this position would be to work towards recruiting new faculty and to provide incentives for current faculty in order to fill in the gaps where there is the greatest lack in course offerings.

Ethnic studies is a discipline that should incorporate the study of the social, cultural and historical forces that have shaped the development of America’s diverse citizenry, including, but not limited to, its African-American, Asian- American, Latino, Irish-American and Italian-American communities. Specifically, this program should focus on groups that historically have been economically, educationally, politically, legally and socially disadvantaged, and through this process students would work to determine why these groups have not been fully integrated into the fabric of American society. Through this examination of our common histories and struggles, we will be able to achieve a more enlightened understanding of our similarities and differences.

Is there an interest in ethnic studies at Georgetown? Well, given the vast interest among students who are taking the courses currently being offered – I would say, yes. Is the creation of such a program a feasible reality for Georgetown in the near future? I should hope so, given that the seemingly largest barrier between the concept and reality is a single faculty member to administer the program.

What do we have to lose? Only the growing sense of intolerance and segregation apparent in our classrooms, dorm rooms, and cafeterias.

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